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The Houston Area Survey
1982-Present
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Independent school district



An independent school district (ISD) is a type of school district in some US states for primary and secondary education that operates as an entity independent and separate from any municipality, county, or state. As such, the administrative leadership of such districts is selected from within the district itself and has no direct responsibility to any other governmental authority. This independence normally also implies that the district has its own taxing authority that is outside the direct control of other governmental entities.

The state of Texas has by far the largest number of independent school districts, with almost all of its districts falling into this category (Stafford Municipal School District being the notable exception). The term independent may be used to describe other types of school districts, though this is less common.

The use of the term independent can vary in actual application in those states that even use the term. In Kentucky, for example, all school districts are independent of the state, county, and municipal governments. However, state law defines an "independent school district" as one whose jurisdiction does not cover an entire county, instead covering a city or cluster of cities.

In Texas during the early 1900s, school districts were generally divisions of county or municipal governments as in most of the country. The onset of the Texas Oil Boom dramatically changed many aspects of the state and many communities within it. Sudden discoveries of large petroleum reserves created numerous boomtowns whose populations often multiplied tremendously in short periods. The growth was often a mixed blessing for these communities. The rapid demographic change in the once small towns often initially caused severe strain on the local school systems unprepared for the rapid influx of students. Even as money was rapidly flowing in the communities, obtaining tax revenue efficiently where it was needed was often complex. Communities dealt with these problems by establishing independent school districts which could establish their own taxing authority and more quickly adjust to changing financial demands. By 1921-2, the state had 858 independent school districts and 7,369 common school districts. Through the middle of the 20th century, many smaller common school district combined to become independent school districts. This type of school district is still the standard in Texas today.

In the state of Texas, each district is run by a school board. The elected council of the school board helps determine educational policy within the boundaries of the school district, its taxable area, which is "independent" of state lines. The board also has the ultimate say in the hiring and firing of principals and superintendents and other district-wide administrative positions. The employment of teachers in individual schools, however, is usually left to the principal and administrative staff of the respective schools.

A school board is usually organized as a division under the respective city government of the city in which the district is located. But in areas where districts are older than nearby cities, a district can serve areas outside the city limits of the city it is named for. For example, Lewisville Independent School District completely encompasses the city limits of Lewisville, The Colony, Flower Mound, and Highland Village (while Lewisville is arguably the largest of the cities it serves, this is not always the case). In fact, it is very common for multiple small suburbs or communities, with distinct city governments, to be served by a single school district. Conversely, large cities may include part or all of several school districts, often associated with communities that became part of the city by annexation while retaining their own school districts; for example, the city limits of San Antonio includes portions of the school districts Alamo Heights, East Central, North East, Northside, San Antonio, South San Antonio, Southside, and Southwest.

The term "independent" is very applicable in modern times, despite its early origins. As an example, the City of Dallas and the Dallas Independent School District are completely separate-run entities; while both experience similar problems caused by similar factors, issues and corruption that arose within the Dallas School Board did not arise from, or link to, any corruption within the city government of Dallas itself.






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